The Endless Battle
The Endless Battle

For what turned out to be the next eight years, mood swings in all their outrageous glory consumed my life.  In the beginning, buoyed by confidence that I had survived the earlier episodes, I managed to cope.  My moods changed rapidly.  Prior to my first hospitalization in 1990 I had an extreme hypomanic episode.

I felt I was on top of the world…nothing and nobody could stop me, so insistent was my enthusiasm.  I had so many ideas and plans that I rarely had time to sleep, or eat for that matter.  I was driven creatively and intensified my creative outlet as a freelance crochet designer to the point where I would work all day and crochet all night.  My designs sold!  My editors called for more, and I was more than willing to oblige.  Nothing my friends or family said to me about slowing down got through to me.  I felt wonderful for the first time in a long while.  I was unable to recognize my irritability and "bitchiness" when anyone tried to intrude on my new found joy or "prick my balloon."   Over time the mood intensified and I lost my sense of judgement and became agitated.  I lacked both concentration and decision making skills.

Shopping and spending money became a major part of my life.  One day, I remember spying a beautiful sweater in a department store…..just what I wanted and needed, and I had to have it.  The problem was it came in six colors, and I was completely unable to decide which I wanted.  I stood there for a bit, my mind in a fog, then deliberately picked up one of each shade and went to the check out.  I still have those sweaters, by the way, and only one of them has ever been worn.  Somehow they don't appeal to me any longer.  This is just one example of my "overspending" in hypomania…there were many more.  Money was not a problem…cash or plastic…opening new charge accounts, getting a loan…whatever I needed to do to achieve my goal was fair game.  For a person, normally responsible and quite frugal it was quite a rush!

Inevitably, in 1990, I crashed.  Nobody can remain at high levels without expecting the depression that follows.  Sunk deep in depression, I was hospitalized immediately.  Medication changes, rest and proper sleep and eating routines slowly brought me out of it, and I returned to work immediately after being released.  The difference now was that I had the added stress of the credit card bills coming in every month.

It was not over.  Several times in the next couple of years I was back in hospital, each episode seeming worse than the last, and each giving me a sense of loss and hopelessness.  At the beginning of 1992 I became an integral part of a new Bipolar Disorder Support Group opening in our city.  (See my Article "Bipolar Support Groups" for more on this).  The involvement with others sharing the disorder was for the most part a wonderful experience.

The process of the disorder was unending.  In a suicidal depression I was sent to a larger psychiatric hospital 500 miles from home for ECT (electroshock) treatments in July/August 1992.  After just a few treatments they were discontinued because of my extreme reaction to them.  ECT is a powerful treatment, and can (has) made the difference between life and death for many individuals.  Unfortunately, it was not for me.  I managed to convince the psychiatrist there that my suicide thoughts had abated and returned home in August.

On October 1, my plans made, I made the final decision to end my life.  My husband and son were leaving the house to take care of errands and would be gone for at least two hours.  As soon as they left I collected my huge amassed collection of psychiatric drugs, and swallowed them by the handful, chasing them down with water.  I have no idea how many I took - hundreds for sure.  I closed my eyes and waited as the drowsiness overcame me.

Meanwhile, my husband was urging my son to hurry home.  He had a dreaded sense that something was terribly wrong and was worried about fire or other calamity.  When they arrived they found me, semi-comatose.  Between them, they got me into the car and started for the hospital, then stopped part way to call an ambulance.

I died, literally, twice in the emergency room of the hospital and was brought back to life.  Once stabilized I was moved to the Intensive Care Unit, where I was intubated and put on a kidney dialysis machine.  I remained there, comatose and semi-comatose for two weeks, before slowly making progress, and being transferred to the psychiatric unit.

My mood was at its lowest possible ebb.  I refused to speak to anyone, including my doctor.  I had failed at the most important thing in my life…I was still alive…and would have to do it all over again.  I had completely given up hope.  Within a couple of weeks I began having trouble breathing.  The problem increased daily until I was unable to walk more than a few feet without stopping to catch my breath.  One night I was gasping for air and unable to get any, and was rapidly taken to the emergency room.  I was transferred again to the Intensive Care Unit.  The top half of my right lung had collapsed and the lower part was filled with infectious fluid.  Emergency surgery was performed, and I was very ill.  Apparently I had inhaled something during my failed attempt that had festered in my lung.

After time and many tests (some of them very painful) and treatment by an inhalation therapist I was once again transferred to the psychiatric unit.  All in all this hospital stay was to last three months.  Although I slowly improved I never completely recovered.  One thing that kept me going was the support group and my efforts to help others going through the same pain.  Especially Jeff, a bipolar who had become a close friend and companion….who was going through his own hell.  In 1994, Jeff reached the end of his endurance and took his own life, an event that will be branded in my memory forever.

In September 1995, my doctor, at a loss to know what to do next, made arrangements for me to be admitted to a provincial psychiatric hospital.  I had heard of this place and had all sorts of preconceived notions of palliative care, never being released and fear.  All groundless.  I met a very special doctor there who took an interest in my case.  He treated not only my mind, but my body.  Through his efforts, I was sent to a large sleep lab for testing, and it was discovered that there had been permanent damage to my lung, and that I would require supplemental oxygen for the remainder of my life.  I was 45.  Fortunately, I was able to produce enough oxygen during the day when I was awake and moving, and required the use of oxygen only while asleep.
He started me on a daily walking program for exercise and counseled me on diet.  I went on to lose over one hundred pounds.  (regretfully some of it has returned).  It was a turning point for me.

On my return home I worked on this program, was assigned a case manager to  "watch over me", saw a therapist and continued the new medications the doctor had prescribed.  The oxygen made a tremendous difference.  No longer was I sleeping most of the day and all of the night.  My mood lifted, thoughts of suicide faded (though they never completely left me), and I slowly but surely progressed.

Over the next couple of years I improved.  I remained withdrawn, never returning to the sociable person I had once been, but I found peace and contentment in my solitude.

A mixed episode in Jan/Feb 1998 was my last hospitalization to date.  Laughing and crying, manic and depressed, haunted by voices telling me I was no good, a bad person who deserved only to die all at he same time.  A horrible experience and one I never wish to repeat.  Suicide again brushed its chilling fingers along my spine as I was awakened very early one morning and moved into the hall.  Jenna, the girl in the bed beside me had taken her life.  She had lost her four year old daughter to an accident several months earlier and her goal was to be with her again.  She had told me the whole story.

Her death left me numb.  Though special support meetings were set up for those of us who were her friends, I truly believe the patients had more understanding than the staff.  After all we had been there.

See my next article in this series, "Twenty Years Later - Looking Back, Looking Ahead." 

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